Creating a new brand for IPFW

September 5th, 2017

By Ron Shawgo | The Journal Gazette

IPFW is paying a marketing company $80,000 to help it rebrand as the school transitions to a new name and identity as Purdue University Fort Wayne.

SimpsonScarborough, which works with higher education institutions from its base in Alexandria, Virginia, will also be paid for travel expenses, according to its contract. The Journal Gazette obtained a copy through a formal records request.

The company has visited campus once and will visit again in about a week to present its survey findings to school leaders, said Angie Fincannon, Vice Chancellor for Advancement.

The rebranding must be approved by Purdue University, which has a logo, colors and fonts that Fincannon said the Fort Wayne campus will have to navigate as it settles on its own brand. Purdue recently announced a system-wide crackdown on "rogue material" outside of uniform standards. Purdue Fort Wayne, as the transformed campus will be called, is part of that system.

"At this point I don't even know what to expect," Fincannon said.

Purdue currently is the managing partner of IPFW. In December, IU and Purdue trustees approved an agreement for IPFW's governance that establishes two institutions beginning July 1, 2018. IU will have a lower profile and focus on health sciences. Purdue will handle all other academic programs.

The split has to be approved by the Indiana Commission for Higher Learning, and IPFW has asked for expedited approval as it begins recruiting students for the 2018-19 school year.

The transition is already apparent locally. IU recently began a campaign of newspaper, billboard, radio, and social media ads, said John Applegate, IU's executive vice president for academic affairs.

The plan is to make sure "everyone knows that IU’s commitment to Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana is stronger than ever, and that we have high expectations for a great future in health sciences education that meets the needs of the region," Applegate said in an email.

For IU there's no rebranding.

"Their brand's already done," Fincannon said. "It's IU. IU doesn't allow any variation. So theirs was easy. We're creating an entire new brand for this university."

The SimpsonScarborough contract was signed in April and ends Sept. 30. The company has worked for numerous Indiana colleges, including, Purdue, Indiana, Ball State, Indiana State, Indiana Wesleyan and Butler universities, as well as Earlham College, and the University of Indianapolis, according to its website.

SimpsonScarborough was well into its survey of high school students and current IPFW students, faculty and alumni when Purdue President Mitch Daniels issued a "Clarification of Brand Governance" in July that outlines the importance of uniform branding of all Purdue schools. Daniels didn't mince words.

"No university that we know of has been as lax as we in enforcing the use and format of our brand marks and standards," Daniels wrote in the memo to administrators. Costs related to "rogue material," will be "deducted from the unit's next allocation," it states.

"In other words, the University will not pay for violations of its brand standards, which do provide for reasonable flexibility to tailor and adapt to local uses," Daniels wrote.

Molly Jackson, associate vice president of SimpsonScarborough, called the situation at IPFW "truly unique." The school has benefited from two strong brands that are different, she said in an email. Purdue is known for science and engineering, and IU is known for business, music, and other programs.

"So IPFW is going through this odd transition where it’s essentially losing all the great associations that people make with IU and working to find its way to leaning into all the great associations that people make with Purdue," Jackson said.

While a loss to some, marketing sees more focused brands as stronger, she said.

"Ideally, this change will reduce the institution’s brand confusion," Jackson said. "The new PFW will be easier to understand. The institution can be much more clear with its key target audiences about who it is, how it operates, and why it exists. Trying to convey the brand of one institution is hard enough…..two is very complicated. Just ask IUPUI! Haha! So, we really see this as a great opportunity for the new PFW to establish clarity around its brand identity."

SimpsonScarborough aims to gauge IPFW's strengths and weaknesses. The rebranding will determine if school colors and team name should change, for example. Purdue spokeswoman Julie Rosa said in June that the Mastodons will remain the name of the Purdue Fort Wayne teams, but team colors could change.

Under terms of the contract, IPFW wants to gauge the value of the experience its Fort Wayne campus provides and "understand any liabilities or threats that must be addressed."

The school hopes to determine the programs IPFW is best known for and what Purdue University assets should be capitalized upon, among other questions.

An IPFW official has previously said the school will publicly release the results of the rebranding between late September and mid-October.

The $80,000 price tag is related to the number of people surveyed, which IPFW tried to hold to a minimum without hurting the survey's integrity, Fincannon said. About 1,600 people were expected to be surveyed, according to the contract.

"I feel like it was a pretty reasonable price for what they're doing and what their reputation is," she said.

These are some of the questions recent branding surveys hoped to address:

  • What level of awareness, familiarity, and preference for IPFW and Purdue University exists among key audiences?
  • What are schools’ key brand associations (both positive and negative)?
  • How is IPFW viewed on factors that influence quality perceptions; and how does it compare to it closest competitor institutions on these factors?
  • For what programs is IPFW currently best known?
  • What positive, distinctive characteristics may be used to better articulate the new Purdue University Fort Wayne campus' brand strategy and position?
  • What regional strengths can the school leverage to best educate its students and appeal to its key audiences?
  • What motivates prospects to inquire and apply to IPFW? What leads them to explore other institutions more seriously?
  • What role will the brand equity of Purdue University play in perceptions of the Purdue University Fort Wayne campus?
  • What Purdue University brand assets should be capitalized upon by the Fort Wayne campus?
  • Which marketing and recruitment messages are most effective in advancing the school’s enrollment efforts?
  • How can the school best attract partnerships with businesses and employers?
  • How will internal audiences be impacted by the realignment, including their affinity to the school and perceptions of the value of their degree?